Monday, December 16, 2019

Olive Peany.

Today we have a guest post from Undine, who describes herself as “Blogger of the Grotesque and Arabesque. Remarkably lifelike.” And who would argue? She hosts the blog Strange Company ( which consistently delivers on its promise of “A walk on the weird side of history.” Undine also hosts The World of Edgar Allan Poe ( providing everything you need to know concerning that esteemed gentleman. 

“Olive Peany,” simultaneously posted on Murder by Gaslight and Strange Company, recounts the tragic 1895 murder of an ambitious but hard to please Ohio girl. 

Olive Peany
by Undine

Hopkinsville Kentuckian, April 2, 1895
Olive Bernthisel was not only one of the prettiest girls in Wood County, Ohio, she was unusually smart and ambitious as well.  The family farm in the small hamlet of Tontogany was well-managed and reasonably prosperous, but Olive was not content with a rustic existence.  She persuaded her father to contribute a considerable sum of money that would allow her to get a better education than was available in the countryside.  Accordingly, she spent several years in a boarding school in a more metropolitan area of the state.

When she returned home she was even more attractive and popular than before...and just as ambitious.  At about that same time, Tontogany gained a new resident, a young German doctor named Adam (or Adolf) Eddmon.  Dr. Eddmon was a handsome man who radiated an Old World sophistication that left Miss Bernthisel utterly charmed.  Unfortunately, the doctor was a poor man, so despite his attractions, Olive reluctantly agreed with her father's assessment that Eddmon was no fit match for her.

No sooner had Olive and Eddmon parted company that she found herself ardently courted by an Illinois farmer named John Burns.  He was well-to-do, determined to win her, and lucky enough to catch her on the rebound.  Within a few weeks of their first meeting, Olive agreed to marry him.

Although gossip suggested that Olive's heart was still with the dashing young doctor, she became Mrs. Burns and moved to her new husband's farm in nearby Whitehall.  Unfortunately, she soon learned that her husband was of "dissipated habits"--so dissipated that after only a few years of marriage she obtained a divorce.

When she moved back to Tontogany around 1885, she found that things had changed greatly during her absence.  Her first love, Dr. Eddmon, had established a thriving practice, as well as a successful drug store.  He was now a decidedly rich man.  Unfortunately for whatever lingering dreams Olive Burns may have cherished, Eddmon was also now married to a banker's daughter, Catherine Black. Thanks to his wife's connections, he was one of the most prominent men in the county.  He served six years as mayor, joined numerous societies, and became a recording agent for Aetna Insurance, as well as a special agent for the passenger department of the C.H. & D.R. Railway.  In short, he was living the life Olive had always felt was her due.

If Olive was suffering from the "what might have been" blues, she kept it to herself.  Before long, she married again, to an ex-soldier named Peter Peany (or Peaney.)  Peany lacked Eddmon's wealth and social standing, but he was comfortably off, and the pair settled down in seeming contentment in a cottage very near the Eddmon mansion.

Unfortunately, Olive's second marriage soon became as unhappy as her first.  Wounds Peany had suffered in the army took its toll on his health, and before many years had passed, he became an invalid.  Olive lacked the patience and strength of character to cope with a chronically ill husband, and it didn't take long before she became as bitter and snappish as he was unhappy and complaining.  Although the pair continued to live together, it became a marriage in name only.

Almost inevitably, Olive sought consolation in the company of her first love.  Dr. Eddmon showed no sign of disliking her attentions.  It is anyone's guess to what extent the two former sweethearts rekindled the old flames, but it is certain that the neighbors began talking and Eddmon's wife, by all accounts a formidable lady, began to watch her husband very, very closely.

Eddmon's office/drug store stood about one hundred yards away from his home.  It was in his office that he and Olive would frequently meet--just to talk in a neighborly fashion, so they said.

On March 1,1895, the Peanys expected friends over to play cards.  When 8:45 rolled around without the expected guests turning up, Peter gave up and went to his bedroom on the second floor.  Olive slept in a separate room downstairs.  Not long afterwards, she too retired for the night.

At least, that was what she wanted her husband to think.  A little after nine p.m., she quietly left her cottage.  The central mystery in the case revolves around why she left.  According to some accounts, she received a message luring her out.  Assuming this was so, it is a great pity we do not know who wrote this note.  It would explain what happened next.

Olive crept through the silent, pitch-dark road towards Eddmon's office.  She quietly opened the gate and walked softly towards the rear entrance.  Just as she was opening the door, someone who was waiting inside shot her through the heart.  She died instantly.

The police had a miserable time trying to solve her murder.  There were certainly no shortage of possible suspects, but it was one of those situations where no one they interviewed told straightforward, truthful stories.

Law enforcement's first Person of Interest was Eddmon's house servant, Nellie Hartsing.  The "hard-featured young woman" freely admitted that she had been Eddmon's mistress for the two years she had been in his employ.  Was she jealous enough to murder a more attractive rival for the doctor's affections?

And what of Mrs. Eddmon?  She might have been able to overlook her husband's purely physical relationship with the hired help, but might his increasing closeness to an old love have been too much for this jealous, imperious woman to tolerate?

Dr. Eddmon?  Could he have taken drastic measures to extricate himself from an illicit affair that threatened his prosperous, highly respectable existence?

Peter Peany?  Ill, unhappy, virtually abandoned by his wife in favor of another man?  Who could be a better suspect than the husband scorned?

The whole thing was like one of those Agatha Christie stories where all the characters have a motive.  Unfortunately, Miss Marple was not around to gather everyone in a room in the last scene and surprise the murderer into a nice, tidy confession.

The victim's husband was the first to be arrested, but police, after interviewing other witnesses in the case, quickly set him free and, in a move that made all the local newspapers agog, brought that leading citizen Dr. Eddmon into custody, along with Nellie Hartsing.

Hartsing was, before long, released.  She briefly returned to her father's house, but soon returned to her post in the Eddmon household.  In spite of what she had previously told police, she went before a Justice and made out an affidavit that there had never been any improper relations between her and the doctor.  Eddmon then began circulating a petition which stated that everyone who signed believed him to be innocent of Olive Peany's murder.  A local paper noted dryly that this scheme "did not meet with favor, and the persons having it in charge gave up in disgust after failing to secure more than one or two signatures."

In June, a Grand Jury indicted Adam and Catherine Eddmon for first-degree murder.  Rumor had it that Mrs. Eddmon wrote the decoy note that lured Mrs. Peany to her doom, while the doctor fired the fatal shot.  Dr. Eddmon went on trial the following month.

There was a great deal of suspicion against the Eddmons, but, as it turned out, suspicion was about all the prosecution had.  The evidence against the doctor was, court observers noted, "circumstantial and very slim."  They were unable to prove that any unlawful intimacy had occurred between the doctor and Mrs. Peany, or that at the time of the shooting, he was doing anything but, as he testified, sitting innocently in his home performing his normal bookkeeping chores.

To absolutely no one's surprise, after a forty-minute deliberation, the jury acquitted Dr. Eddmon.  The prosecution then conceded complete defeat by dismissing the charges against his wife.  And the investigation into Olive Peany's murder effectively ceased.

Four years later, Peter Peany, who had moved to Bowling Green, Ohio, married his brother's widow and quietly disappeared from history.  The Eddmons survived the scandal and smoothly returned to their old lives.  Catherine died in 1911, followed by her husband three years later.  Happy endings all around.

Except for Olive Peany, of course.


dong says:
December 20, 2019 at 8:43 AM


NorthsideRasta says:
December 20, 2019 at 7:52 PM

The maid did it.

Daniel Weinstein says:
December 21, 2019 at 2:26 AM

Please: What exactly are “dissipated habits”?

Daniel Weinstein says:
December 21, 2019 at 2:27 AM

Please: What exactly are “dissipated habits”?

Graham Clayton says:
January 3, 2020 at 7:34 PM

"just to talk in a neighborly fashion, so they said." - LOL

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